If you’re in the US, you’re familiar with how workaholics are praised for putting in countless hours and for never wanting to put work down. Let’s call it Last One to Leave the Office Syndrome (LOL OS, if you will).
The majority of us run on LOL OS. It’s our daily operating system.
And we get external reinforcement from our friends, family, co-workers, and bosses that further strengthens the desire to work ourselves harder.
People look up to workaholics and encourage them.
“You worked 80 hours last week? Awesome!”
“Overtime five nights in a row? Yeah buddy!”
You get the picture.
Many of us have an addiction to working ourselves to death, a constant fixation with productivity and output.
What’s worse is we feel guilty when we take time for ourselves to unwind and to give our minds time to relax.
When I was a remote employee, I had flexibility and autonomy over my own schedule.
Working wherever and whenever you want is awesome, but it comes at a price you never see coming.
You’re mentally on the clock even when you don’t have to be.
Rewind to late October 2014, back to the Sky Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
My buddy Mike and I had basically taken the entire day off to explore the city and drive on top of mountains on our little rental mopeds. It was my first taste of being the driver in a vehicle that didn’t have any doors or a roof.
At night, we met up with our group of friends for the annual Yi Peng (Loi Krathong) Sky Lantern release, where thousands gathered on the grounds of a Maejo University to release their gigantic fiery lanterns.
As the night settled down and we met up for dinner, I blurted out an innocent realization. “Wow, I didn’t do any work today.”
One of my friends chimed in, “Really? I always feel guilty if I don’t work each day.”
Then it hit me. I had felt guilty too.
It had been a great day of decompression and the night sky lit up in the most spectacular and beautifully coordinated display I had seen in my life, but I felt bad for having taken the day off.
Now that I’m running my own company, I still feel bad if I don’t put in a sufficient amount of work in each day.
Two of my good friends from California are visiting me this week. They’re spending two nights here and when they first called me up to ask if I was available, I hesitated. Looking at my schedule, I saw I had a lot of scheduled calls Monday morning.
Then I thought about the work I had to do Tuesday. Then I thought about how much work I’d have to push to another date if I took both days off.
Luckily, I snapped out of it and told them I’d clear my schedule and that I’d make sure to show them a great time.
The things I value most are my friends, family, and making sure I don’t burnout. Whether that means closing the laptop on the weekends or watching an hour of television or a movie at night, I do it.
I accept that my brain may not shut up because it’s calling me back to work even when I don’t have to be there. It may keep nagging even if I’ve done enough for the day or if I’m tired and should give myself time off. It’ll cry and complain while I prioritize my closest friends over the work that could be done another day.
So I let it. I allow my intrusive thoughts to keep kicking and screaming, but then I go do what I want anyway.
I close the laptop. I stop checking emails. I stay present and enjoy the company of whoever I am with or focus 100% on the activity at hand.
You can’t always be working. There won’t be any medals or Wikipedia articles written solely based on how many hours you log each day. There has to be enough time for you to enjoy your life and the people in it.
You know what happens to a candle that is left sitting there, burning away, without refilling the wax? It eventually burns out.
Don’t let your mind burnout.
Accept that you’ll feel guilty for taking time off work for yourself. There will always be more work to be done. It never runs out.
What does run out is your bandwidth. Life itself runs out. So why not make the most of it by doing what makes you happy?
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” -Ferris Bueller